By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer
Fighting injustice is a way of life in Kylla Leeburg's family.
In fact, she describes her entire family as "freedom fighters," committed to fighting human trafficking.
"My parents raised us to believe there was more to life than just making money and living for ourselves," she told Land Line. "We were raised to fight to make the world a better place."
She said she and her three sisters all had life-changing moments in 2007 after reading a book given to them by their mom, Lyn Thompson, titled "Not for Sale" by David B. Batstone.
After reading that book, Leeburg, her mom and her sisters – Karin Leeburg Larsen, Kirsta Leeburg-Melton and Kendis Paris – were inspired to form Chapter 61 Ministries, then Truckers Against Trafficking two years later, to battle human trafficking in the U.S.
"We had a conference call after reading that book and decided to start Chapter 61 Ministries to fight injustice, and human trafficking became our target issue," Leeburg said.
She said they didn't realize at the time that they were the only abolitionist group that was focusing on the transportation industry as a way to battle human trafficking in the United States.
"We intrinsically knew that truckers would stand up and stop human trafficking if they had all of the information about what was going on," she said. "This is definitely proving to be true."
Since TAT was formed in 2009, more than 125 truck drivers in 30 states have called the national hotline number, resulting in the rescue of more than 100 human trafficking victims, including many underage teens.
Leeburg said the statistics are tracked by the Polaris Project, which runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. She said while it's the first instinct of many drivers to call 911 to report possible human trafficking or prostitution, it's also important that they call the national hotline number at 888-373-7888 to report what they witness.
"We work with other groups like Polaris, who will be pushing for legislation and funding, so the more calls that come in from truckers, there will be a push on that end when that need continues to grow," she said. "Even if the results aren't immediate, the information is being used and it will eventually save lives. We have seen this happen."
Kylla Leeburg says her parents always pushed their girls to fight for what they believed in.
"We have taken up causes – all of us – our whole lives," she said. "My dad was an attorney. My sister, Kirsta Leeburg-Melton, is a district attorney in Bexar County, TX, and handles human trafficking and domestic abuse cases there. We are all very 'justice-focused.'"
Her sister Kendis Paris is TAT's national director. Sister Karin Larsen manages the calls they receive from their website and sends materials to truck drivers asking for more information about the organization.
"What we are seeing is a huge increase of truckers asking for the window decals, our wallet cards, and it's just an exciting time," she said.
TAT's goal is that their training video, released in March and available on the TAT website, will be used in every truck stop and driver training school in the country. Leeburg said they already have received tons of support from the trucking industry.
"TA is using our materials to train their employees about human trafficking, some publically-funded driver training schools are using our materials," she said. "We are trying to get the 'surrounding industries' around trucking to make those materials available."
In May, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association started distributing TAT's wallet cards to drivers visiting the Association's HQ in Grain Valley, MO. All of the IdleAir locations are providing the information at all of their locations as well. Leeburg said TAT is in talks with another major truck stop chain as well as independent truck stops.
"Going into this, we were all outsiders to the trucking industry and there was a definite learning curve for us," Leeburg said. "What we have found is that truckers are taking an active role in fighting human trafficking."
Besides her work with Chapter 61 Ministries and Truckers Against Trafficking, Leeburg is also a high school history teacher in Oklahoma. She recently received the 2011-2012 Broken Arrow Public Schools' District Teacher of the Year award.
Giving a voice to the silent
The goal of Truckers Against Trafficking is to give a voice to those who may not have one or who are too afraid to speak up for fear of what will happen if they do.
Kylla Leeburg has been compelled to help those who feel they have no voice since the mid-1990s. She began her journey as a missionary in El Salvador and worked with gang members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Dieciocho (18th Street Gang). She published her book, "My Life Crazy" about her experience working with gang members in El Salvador.
"What I saw from working with them was that they had been completely marginalized and rejected by society. There were no job opportunities and they felt isolated, so they opted into gangs as a way to fight their own fight in a really bad way," she said.
"When you get down to the core of what happened to the kids in El Salvador, and the kids who are being trafficked in the U.S., their situations are very similar," Leeburg said. "These kids all have had no safety net to catch them. They have no one to stand up for them or care for them, and that is what we are trying to do." LL